Case: Briggs v. Elliott

2:50-cv-02657 | U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina

Filed Date: Dec. 22, 1950

Closed Date: 1960

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Case Summary

On December 22, 1950, Harry Briggs, Jr. and 20 other plaintiffs sued chairman R. W. Elliott and other members of the Board of Trustees of School District No. 22, a school district in Clarendon County, South Carolina. Represented by several civil rights attorneys, including Thurgood Marshall and others at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, the plaintiffs argued that the school district was discriminating against Black students by refusing them access to schools attended by white students in violation…

On December 22, 1950, Harry Briggs, Jr. and 20 other plaintiffs sued chairman R. W. Elliott and other members of the Board of Trustees of School District No. 22, a school district in Clarendon County, South Carolina. Represented by several civil rights attorneys, including Thurgood Marshall and others at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, the plaintiffs argued that the school district was discriminating against Black students by refusing them access to schools attended by white students in violation of their rights under the 14th Amendment's Equal Protection Clause. They sought declaratory judgment and injunctive relief.

After filing the complaint, the individuals who brought the suit and their families were subject to intense harassment and economic retaliation by white members of the community. In some cases, retaliation surpassed the economic: the home of a reverend who was one of the driving forces behind the suit was burned to the ground and white firefighters refused to put out the flames. See "Clarendon County in Black & White" (available under resources).

The case was heard by a three-judge district court panel, consiting of Fourth Circuit Judge John Parker, District Judge J. Waties Waring, and District Judge George Bell Timmerman. In his opinion for the two-judge majority, Judge Parker held that the plaintiffs were entitled to relief on account of the patent disparity in resources between schools attended by Black and white children. 98 F.Supp. 529. However, Judge Parker applied the then-valid doctrine of "separate but equal" as established in Plessy v. Ferguson. He held that the school district could maintain segregated schools so long as schools attended by Black and white students had equal resources. In so holding, Judge Parker denied the injunction to abolish segregation and granted the injunction to equalize educational facilities. Under the decree, the school board was required to submit a report regarding its progress within six months of the order to the court. The sole dissenting Judge Waring wrote in his dissent that he would have instead have ordered desegregation under the precedents set by Supreme Court cases ordering desegregation of law schools. In the words of the dissent, "Segregation is per se inequality."

As usual in a three-judge district court case, the plaintiffs appealed the decision directly to the Supreme Court. In between when the appeal was filed and the Supreme Court heard it, the school board officials submitted their report to the District Court. In a per curium opinion, the Supreme Court remanded the case down to the District Court until the report could be considered by that court. 342 U.S. 350. Justices Black and Douglas dissented on the ground that the report was "wholly irrelevant to the constitutional question" on appeal.

Back in the district court, a three-judge panel again considered the case. The sole dissenter from the previous decision, Judge Waring, was replaced by Fourth Circuit Judge Armistead Mason Dobie, but Judge Timmerman and Judge Parker remained on the panel. Judge Parker held that the defendants were adequately conforming with their obligations under the decree to equalize resources. He again denied the injunction abolishing segregation and granted the injunction ordering the equalization of educational resources. 103 F.Supp. 920.

Subsequently, the plaintiffs again appealed the judgment directly to the Supreme Court. On appeal, the Briggs case became part of the cases collectively known as Brown v. Board of Education. 349 U.S. 294. In Brown, the Supreme Court overturned Plessy v. Ferguson and held that segregation in public schools violated the 14th Amendment. Under Brown, school districts were instructed "to move with all deliberate speed," to comply with the Supreme Court's orders.

After Brown was decided, Briggs was remanded back to the District Court under the direction to enter necessary orders to desegregate schools. However, the same panel of judges heard the case on remand. In a per curiam opinion, the district court interpreted Brown to require not integration but only the end of government-enforced segregation. Under the court's reasoning, so long as students of different racial identities attended schools of their choice, no 14th Amendment violation was implicated. 132 F.Supp. 776.

Ultimately, the Briggs suit was terminated in 1960. Subsequently, a a new suit was filed before a a single district court judge, captioned Brunson v. Clarendon County. Following extensive litigation that became the Brunson case, token desegregation began in 1965 when the Eastern District ordered the admission of several Black students to white schools. 244 F. Supp. 859. The original decree was appealed to the Fourth Circuit. Finally, 20 years after Briggs was originally filed and over 15 years after the Supreme Court held that "separate but equal" was unconstitutional, the Fourth Circuit mandated complete desegregation in 1970. 429 F.2d 820.

Summary Authors

Gabrielle Simeck (3/21/2021)

Related Cases

Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, District of Kansas (1951)

Brunson v. Board of Trustees of Clarendon County, District of South Carolina (1960)

Bolling v. Sharpe, District of Columbia (1950)

Allen/Davis/Griffin v. County School Board of Prince Edward Co., Eastern District of Virginia (1951)

Belton v. Gebhart, Bulah v. Gebhart, Delaware state trial court (1952)

People


Judge(s)

Black, Hugo Lafayette (District of Columbia)

Burton, Harold Hitz (District of Columbia)

Clark, Tom C. (District of Columbia)

Dobie, Armistead Mason (Virginia)

Douglas, William Orville (District of Columbia)

Frankfurter, Felix (District of Columbia)

Jackson, Robert Houghwout (District of Columbia)

Minton, Sherman (District of Columbia)

Parker, John Johnston (North Carolina)

Reed, Stanley Forman (District of Columbia)

Judge(s)

Black, Hugo Lafayette (District of Columbia)

Burton, Harold Hitz (District of Columbia)

Clark, Tom C. (District of Columbia)

Dobie, Armistead Mason (Virginia)

Douglas, William Orville (District of Columbia)

Frankfurter, Felix (District of Columbia)

Jackson, Robert Houghwout (District of Columbia)

Minton, Sherman (District of Columbia)

Parker, John Johnston (North Carolina)

Reed, Stanley Forman (District of Columbia)

Timmerman, George Bell Sr. (South Carolina)

Waring, Julius Waties (South Carolina)

Attorneys(s) for Plaintiff

Carter, Robert Lee (New York)

Jenkins, Lincoln G (South Carolina)

Marshall, Thurgood (District of Columbia)

Robinson, Spottswood William III (District of Columbia)

Shores, Arthur D (Alabama)

Walden, A. T. (Georgia)

Documents in the Clearinghouse

Document

Docket

Feb. 21, 1969 Docket

Opinion

98 F.Supp. 529

June 23, 1951 Order/Opinion

Opinion

Supreme Court of the United States

342 U.S. 350

Jan. 28, 1952 Order/Opinion

Opinion

103 F.Supp. 920

March 13, 1952 Order/Opinion

Opinion

132 F.Supp. 776

July 15, 1955 Order/Opinion

Resources

Title Description External URL

Clarendon County in Black & White: A Visit to the Home of Briggs v. Elliott, 50 Years After Brown v. Board of Education

David J. Garrow

As Brown’s fiftieth anniversary approaches on May 17, many eyes will turn towards Clarendon County to measure what has changed, and what has not changed, over the past five decades. Although Clarendo… March 15, 2004 http://greenbag.org/v7n3/v7n3_article_garrow.pdf

Briggs v. Elliott

W. Marvin Dulaney

Originally a lawsuit filed by twenty African American parents in Clarendon County for equal educational opportunities for their children, Briggs v. Elliott was the first case in the twentieth century… May 17, 2016 https://www.scencyclopedia.org/sce/entries/briggs-v-elliott/

Recovering Untold Stories: An Enduring Legacy of the Brown v. Board of Education Decision

The book linked in this resource captures the first-person narratives of individuals who were plaintiffs or whose families were represented in the five cases consolidated by the United States Supreme… Jan. 1, 2018 https://kuscholarworks.ku.edu/handle/1808/27702

Briggs v. Elliott

Brown65

In 1947 a chance encounter between Rev. James Hinton, president of the South Carolina NAACP, and Rev. J.A. DeLaine, a local school teacher, led to a push to improve access to public education for Afr… May 14, 2019 https://brown65.the74million.org/briggsvelliot

Docket

Last updated May 12, 2022, 8 p.m.

Docket sheet not available via the Clearinghouse.

State / Territory: South Carolina

Case Type(s):

School Desegregation

Key Dates

Filing Date: Dec. 22, 1950

Closing Date: 1960

Case Ongoing: No

Plaintiffs

Plaintiff Description:

Parents of Black students attending school in Clarendon District 22, South Carolina.

Plaintiff Type(s):

Private Plaintiff

Attorney Organizations:

NAACP Legal Defense Fund

Public Interest Lawyer: Yes

Filed Pro Se: No

Class Action Sought: Yes

Class Action Outcome: Granted

Defendants

Chairman (Clarendon), County

School Board (Clarendon), School District

Defendant Type(s):

Elementary/Secondary School

Case Details

Causes of Action:

Declaratory Judgment Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2201

Constitutional Clause(s):

Equal Protection

Availably Documents:

Any published opinion

U.S. Supreme Court merits opinion

Outcome

Prevailing Party: Plaintiff

Nature of Relief:

Injunction / Injunctive-like Settlement

Declaratory Judgment

Source of Relief:

Litigation

Content of Injunction:

Discrimination Prohibition

Issues

General:

Disparate Treatment

Education

Racial segregation

Discrimination-basis:

Race discrimination

Race:

Black

Type of Facility:

Government-run